Government officials suit up for wildfires

With the summer wildfire season on the horizon, 20 local government officials and fire fighting officials met Wednesday at the Bonneville County Commissioner’s Hearing Room to make sure everybody was working from the same playbook.

The four-hour workshop, led by U.S. Forest Service South Fork fire manager Spencer Johnston, centered around the roles and responsibilities of city and county officials in the event of a wildfire.

The topics included mutual-aid agreements, working with a fire’s emergency operations center, when to declare a disaster, who declares a disaster, delegations of authority, applying for fire management assistance grants, the role of elected officials and agency administrators and tracking and sharing incident costs.

Johnston said the workshop was inspired by the 1,038-acre Charlotte fire two years ago Saturday in Pocatello. The Charlotte fire destroyed 66 homes, 29 other structures and caused more than $8 million in damages.

“After the Charlotte fire, a lot of city and county officials expressed the need to identify their responsibilities and the process of dealing with a wildfire,” Johnston said.

Bonneville County Emergency Management Director Tom Lenderink said many government officials learned from the Pocatello fire.

“I think the Charlotte fire woke a lot of people up,” he said. “God forbid it would happen again, (but) I think (local government officials) would make better and quicker decisions (now). That’s what this meeting was all about.”

Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper said the workshop helped her understand the city’s role if a wildfire occurred within her jurisdiction.

“I realize Idaho Falls won’t experience many wildfires,” Casper said. “But it’s still good to know how everything works.”